MIAMI (WFOR) — Hard work, passion, and high-energy are the best way to describe the cheerleading teams at 5 Star Athletics, but there is one team in particular that has crowds cheering for them.
They are called The Emeralds, a team made up of differently-abled cheerleaders, who practice their tumbling and floor routines every Saturday at the Plantation gym.
Owner Cathy Hearn and her volunteer coaches have been nurturing this cheerleading team since 2014.
Each member of the Emeralds is inspiring.
Whether they are wheelchair bound, have autism or other challenges, they are each having a blast and getting exercise.
Michelle Giler, a volunteer coach, says the focus is on ability, not disability.
“We see what each athlete is able to do, and we work up their skills and we adopt it, we work into the routine,” said Giler.
Christy, a young adult with Down syndrome, has been involved for many years, as she loves the camaraderie and the competition. Her coaches note she is “full of energy and sass, a lot of fun on the floor.”
Her father Scott knows how much this experience means to her, sharing that she looks forward to the gym every weekend.
Then, there is Eric, who is known for his jumps and getting the crowd pumped up. The young man with autism shines in cheering and his other passions, like art and theater.
In addition to the fun and exercise, the Emeralds competed and earned the top place at the 2019 Special Olympics held in Orlando and took home the Gold Medal. They also compete in a big statewide event usually, but not during the pandemic.
Anytime they take the stage the reaction is “powerful”, said Diane Kanter, whose daughter Sarah benefits significantly from the program.
“Go to a competition and see all of the parents crying because of the accomplishments that they have done. Everybody just stands up and yells and screams, it’s beautiful,” said Kanter.
Kaylee Frobel is a volunteer coach too. She has been involved in 5 Star for as long as she can remember. It’s clear she loves working with this team and is proud of them too.
“We do have spotters on the floor, but our athletes are doing the stunts by themselves. The routine, the tumbling, everything and that opens people’s eyes that they are able, and it’s just an amazing thing to witness,” said Frobel.
5 Star emphasizes building character and confidence in all the athletes. They have seen Sarah grow more self-assured.
It is quite significant for a young lady who wasn’t expected to even walk.
“She doesn’t use her right side very well, her one leg is longer than the other, she has had many surgeries in her hand, and she does have cerebral palsy, she does have seizures, small ones. She’s a fighter, she really is,” said Kanter.
For owner Cathy Hearn, who has raised her five athletic children (hence the name of the organization) providing this experience is not a job, it’s a family.
“They are just pure love, everything about them is joy and fun. This is my happy place, this is my happy place,” said Hearn.
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